Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to stand before this House and once again speak to Bill C-7, as it deals with our brave men and women of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
As I stand today, I was looking over my previous speech. I think it is incumbent that we do that once again. We should always remember the sacrifices, not only of our veterans but of those who put their uniforms on and run toward danger every day when others would run away.
RCMP members are moms, dads, sisters, and brothers. They are volunteers within our communities. They coach minor sports. They work with charities. They contribute to the health and wellness of our communities, not just when they have their uniforms on but every day.
We spoke previously of the legend of the Mountie from 1873, the North West Mounted Police, the 150 first recruits, who had the core values of integrity, honesty, professionalism, respect, and accountability. We talked about the legend of the Mountie always getting his man, Dudley Do-Right and Captain Canuck. We also talked about our national symbols of the red serge and the campaign hat, travelling internationally with Mounties in the promotion of Canada, and how proud we are of our RCMP force. These brave men and women are indeed our silent sentinels, so that we can rest comfortably every night. They face human tragedy and danger every day.
Today, we are talking about Bill C-7 and how it impacts the 28,461 members.
As we talk about the history of our RCMP, we should talk about what our RCMP members face today. Today, the RCMP is among the lowest-paid police force in Canada. It has slipped from the number one ranked police force in the world to well below that.
Mr. Speaker, I should also mention that because I was very excited and very passionate about getting into this speech, I forgot to mention that I will be splitting my time with the member for Barrie—Innisfil. I apologize for not mentioning that sooner.
The RCMP are paid 30% lower than their municipal colleagues. Morale is indeed at a low point. We are seeing the numbers every day. Regular force members are faced with increasing workloads and capacity. Time and again, our RCMP members' rights and freedoms are secondary to that, and to those who are committing the crimes.
Since 1974, RCMP members have worked under a non-unionized labour relations regime. They had a secondary group staff relations representative program, SRRP. This was the group that represented the members' rights to management. That was the only group that was able to collectively represent the interests of the employees and our regular force members to management. Despite the consultative role of the SRRP, management has always had the final say in all human resource matters.
In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled, in Mounted Police Association of Ontario v. Canada, that the existing labour relations program, the one currently in place, violated the rights and freedoms of RCMP members.
Under subsection 2(d), “freedom of association”, of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Supreme Court found that indeed the rights and freedoms of RCMP members had been violated. Bill C-7 was introduced by this Liberal government in response to this decision last January. It was ruled that the Mounties should have the right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining. It should be noted that the RCMP are the only police force in Canada without that right.
The Liberals took this legislation a little too far. Bill C-7 contains a list of issues that are excluded from the bargaining table, as well as a controversial proposal to ship Mounties hurt on the job to the provinces they are working in. Among the items that were left out of collective bargaining were staffing levels, workplace harassment, sexual harassment, conduct, discipline, uniforms, and scheduling. These are clauses and issues that not just RCMP workers, but any workers should have. They should have the right for a safe environment, a safe workplace. They should have the right to a say in those areas.
The Conservatives and the opposition were able to strike down, through the Liberal majority on the committee, clauses 40 and 42. These are clauses that would have effectively moved RCMP members' health benefits to provincial entities. Indeed, workers' compensation claims would have been dealt with provincially. This would mean that Mounties would have a different standard of benefits, whether health or workers' compensation benefits, depending on the province they work in. Conservatives, through the committee, were able to strike that down. While this is a positive development, sadly, it took the spouses of existing and retired RCMP members to convince the Liberal government to finally see reason.
It was my sincere hope that through debate, the Liberals would listen to the other concerns, not just from the Conservative side but the NDP, and indeed other members in government, who also shared some of their concerns before the bill went to committee. We had hope on this side that by allowing that bill go to committee, there would be further amendments. Sadly, that was not the case.
Bill C-7 fails to support the brave men and women of the RCMP. It will take away their democratic right to a secret ballot and to negotiate other core issues that impact their work environment, their personal lives, and the lives of their families.
Let us talk about the democratic right to a secret ballot. The Conservatives will always stand behind the RCMP. We will always support legislation that allows for the democratic right for a secret ballot vote. However, we will not support legislation that so blatantly violates the wishes of its members.
I have been stopped a number of times on the street and in shopping centres. I have received emails and letters from RCMP members, wishing to be anonymous because they have been told not to speak about this issue. They have voiced their concerns about Bill C-7. Instead of forcing RCMP members to disclose their votes publicly, the Liberals should listen to the everyday rank and file, the RCMP members who are concerned that their vote will impact their workplace situations.
I think I speak for all members in the House when I say that we proudly support and defend the men and women who wear the RCMP uniform. We thank them for their service every day. However, we, as the official opposition, respect the Supreme Court's decision that RCMP officers are entitled to bargain collectively. Some Conservatives even voted in favour of Bill C-7 to get it to the committee, but we were only able to strike down clauses 40 and 42. The Liberal government, in its open and transparent ways, was unwilling to require secret ballot certification, an essential requirement in the democratic process.
We cannot support any legislation that would deny employees that fundamental right to vote in a secret ballot on whether to unionize. We do not use a show of hands or public petition in our democratic elections, nor should we in our workplace.